Hogs In a
"Hot" Peace: The A-10 Since Desert Storm, Part One
Feature by John "Spoons" Sponauer
It's hard to come up with an aircraft
further from the style of combat preferred by the US in the
1990s than the A-10 Thunderbolt II. It isn't supersonic, rarely
carries "smart" bombs, has very few computerized
systems, and most definitely isn't in its peak flight envelope
for the high altitude, low exposure, high precision strikes
carried out throughout the decade. It rarely creates good
video of bombs slamming home for the evening news, and has
very little ability to tangle on any sustained level with
enemy aircraft. The truth is, it would probably be outperformed
by several fighters from the WWII generation.
That so many A-10s are still in use
today and have seen so much action in the past ten years since
Desert Storm is due to the factors that make the aircraft
an enduring national asset.....its innovative pilot community
and its ability to fly a long time, sustain battle damage,
and give back firepower in spades.
Much has been written about the A-10's
performance in Operation Desert Storm, but it bears repeating.
Operating in an environment that was polar opposite to those
in which it was designed for, using tactics created "off
the shelf" by its crews, and outclassed in performance
by essentially every other aircraft in-theater, the A-10 was
very much a low-tech star of the high-tech war in the desert.
The numbers alone are staggering, especially for an aircraft
due to be phased out of the USAF inventory...these figures
come from Part Two
of The History of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, written earlier
this year by SimHQ's own Willem Aalbers:
- Missions flown:8775
- Recorded Kills:
987 Armored Vehicles
926 Artillery pieces
51 Scud launchers
11 Frog Missile Launchers
112 Military Structures
96 Radar installations
10 Enemy aircraft (on ground)
9 SAM Sites
8 Fuel Tanks
Warthogs over Iraq 1991-2001
The A-10's performance during Desert
Storm, as well as the wide variety of missions that it was
able to accomplish, impressed the USAF, which curbed plans
to retire the aircraft and rely on faster, modified F-16s
for much of the A-10's tasks. Some of the new missions that
the A-10 performed in the Gulf War with merit, such as the
innovative night-fighting capability and the ability to serve
as functional airborne forward air controller aircraft, were
increasingly made the focus of the A-10 community, as there
was no other plane in the inventory or planned that could
do so many tasks so well. The A-10's heavily armed and armored
airframe proved time and time again in Desert Storm that it
could both take and deal punishment in combat, and both of
those traits could also serve well in the roles identified
by the USAF for the aircraft. It wasn't long before the Hogs
would be in action, and in these conflicts the aircraft and
its crews proved critics wrong once again.
Northern Iraq: Food and Fighting
Operation Provide Comfort (April 6,
1991 - July 24, 1991)
With Iraq's military in shambles,
minority groups in the northern and southern parts of the
country were encouraged by the US to revolt and rise up against
the Hussein government. In northern Iraq, Kurds, a long-repressed
ethnic group in the nation, struck at government forces and
captured towns in their region throughout March of 1991. Whatever
success the Kurdish forces experienced, however, was soon
wiped out by a strong Iraqi counterattack, using ground forces
and helicopter gunships to attack the rebels. The Bush Administration,
wary of being drawn into a civil war, did not provide military
support for the Kurds, and within days, the rebellion was
crushed and any lost territory was reclaimed.
Fearing Iraqi retribution, more than
1 million, and possibly as many as 3 million, ethnic Kurds
headed for the rugged, mountainous Turkish border and set
up camp. Disease, cold weather, and the rough conditions,
not the mention the Iraqi Army in pursuit, killed hundreds
of refugees, particularly the very young and very old, each
In early April, the United Nations
passed resolutions against Iraq's actions and requested that
member nations take steps to assist and protect the Kurds.
President Bush authorized the US military to participate in
aid operations, as well as to provide protection for the Kurds.
Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, used
heavily in the Gulf War, rapidly became the hub of activity
for Operation Provide Comfort. On April 7, the first airdrops
of food and supplies to the Kurds began, an effort that would
eventually involve more than 30 countries as part of the coalition.
The major forces involved were from the US, UK, France, and
Turkey, the latter increasingly worried about Kurdish influence
on its own population.
By mid-April, the UN established formal
refugee camps in Northern Iraq, with US Special Forces and
US Marines taking the lead in oversight and operation of the
Unsure what Iraqi response would be
to the sudden infusion of Western aircraft and troops within
its borders, the US established a large military force to
assist in the operation's security, and A-10s played a major
part in that. While F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft established
a "no fly zone" above the 36th parallel, an E-3
AWACS plane coordinated air operations for the region and
tanker aircraft provided refueling support. Heavily loaded
transport aircraft on their way to make parachute drops of
supplies to the Kurds were increasingly vulnerable to ground
fire, and with the fluid masses of refugees and scattered
Iraqi forces nearby, it was established that escort aircraft
would be needed to protect the airdrops. With its slow speed,
great visibility, and established reputation, the Warthog
perfectly fit the bill.
A-10s from the 92 TFS deployed from
Bentwaters, UK to Incirlik on April 6, and the first Hog missions
were flown on the 7th and 8th. The initial role of the A-10s
was actually to fly through the numerous valleys of Northern
Iraq, help find the refugee camps, identify them for the transports,
and then provide cover for the cargo planes as they dropped
For several weeks, until a temporary
airstrips could be created and transport aircraft landed,
the cross-shaped A-10s were the first sign to Kurdish refugees
and watching Iraqi forces that an airdrop was coming. Flying
low and ahead of the transports, A-10 pilots scanned for ground
and helicopter threats to both the cargo aircraft and the
Throughout May, this task was lessened
as fewer and fewer airdrops were needed, but the A-10s out
of Turkey still flew orbits over the area, on the watch of
Iraqi ground movement. In mid-May, the tense nature of the
situation was revealed when an A-10 and an F-16 were taken
under fire by Iraqi anti-aircraft guns in two separate incidents.
In general, though, threats were light, although Iraqi units
were out in force.
Operation Provide Comfort officially
ended on July 24, 1991 after 40,000 sorties delivered more
than 17,000 tons of supplies to the Kurds. About 80 percent
of the villages destroyed by the Iraqi counteroffensive were
restored, and increasingly many of the refugees returned to
their homes. At the same time, Operation Provide Comfort II
began, with less of a focus on humanitarian relief and more
of an emphasis on banning Iraqi action north of the 36th Parallel.
Within weeks, the ground elements of Provide Comfort pulled
out of Iraq, leaving only small units behind and focusing
almost entirely on air units to "keep the peace."
Operation Provide Comfort II (July 24,
1991 - December 31, 1996)
For the five years that the operation
existed, the US Air Force flew about 60 percent of the sorties
for Provide Comfort II, and more than 4,500 sorties in 1996
alone. Some supply missions continued throughout Northern
Iraq, but the operation was largely military in nature, with
the purpose to contain Hussein in the region.
Threats to the aircraft were very
real, and exchanges of fire isolated but frequent. In early
1993, events heated up greatly, with air to air kills against
Iraqi fighters and ground strikes against air defense systems.
What role the available A-10s played in the surge of fighting
isn't clear, but it seems likely that action was limited to
combat search and rescue operations, as the US relied heavily
on high-altitude retaliatory strikes using precision-guided
weapons during this time.
In 1995, the UN assumed control of
the small remaining humanitarian portion of Operation Provide
Comfort II, leaving just a combat role for the patrolling
planes above, as part of Operation Northern Watch.
Operation Northern Watch (January 1,
1997 - Present)
The sorties of Provide Comfort I and
II turned into Operation Northern Watch. For years, and even
to the present day, aircraft from Incirlik Air Base have conducted
near daily sorties over Northern Iraq, and shooting incidents
have become extremely common.
Most of the combat sorties have not
involved the A-10, but instead F-16CJ Wild Weasels, F-15E
Strike Eagles, or RAF attack aircraft. From about 1994 on,
there was no A-10 presence in the region until about a year
ago, when A-10s were again stationed at Incirlik, this time
for CSAR duty.
Speaking in an interview in January
2001, an A-10 pilot assigned to the 303rd EFS, call sign "Rags"
(names of Northern Watch aircrew are not published), spoke
of the airplane's suitability for the task of CSAR:
"What makes the A-10 an outstanding
aircraft is its ability to survive and return home even after
taking several hits from heavy armor emplacements," he
Although A-10s aren't the only aircraft
capable of performing the role of "Sandy," or CSAR
mission commander, they are by far the most frequent and the
most effective. As the mission commander, a Sandy pilot coordinates
all of the other aircraft in the region, from escorting fighters
to the actual rescue helicopters. In addition, he has control
of his own flight and its weapons and can support the rescue
with ground fire as needed. It's a task not too dissimilar
to the forward air controller role tasked to the A-10 fleet,
but with the added stress of coordinating a rescue operation
that can include dozens of aircraft.
"When a pilot goes down it's
busy and chaotic up there," said Rags. "The sandy
mission commander must know the capabilities of all the other
aircraft in the AOR; he must know everything from how much
fuel they hold to what kind of armament they take. It's a
difficult task, but it's a task that sandy mission commanders
train for over and over again."
That quote, in fact, sums up the entire
history of post-war operations over Northern Iraq; difficult
work, and something performed countless times since 1991.
As of this writing, there's no sign that the patrols over
Northern Watch are subsiding, but the A-10s have been replaced
in the CSAR role by the unlikely choice of the F-16, specifically
the 510th Fighter Wing. The reason? According to Maj. Curt
Miller of the 31st Fighter Wing, "There just arent
enough A-10s, which says something about both the operational
tempo sustained by the USAF in the past decade and the constraints
placed on a smaller and smaller A-10 fleet. How does a "fast
mover" like the F-16 perform a task handled by the much
slower A-10? The article states:
The A-10 goes in low and slow,
and we may not do that, Miller said of the Fighting
Falcons. Our biggest strength is laser-guided bombs.
No question. We go about it in different ways, but we are
extremely effective in carrying out that role."
Southern Iraq: PSYOPS, Bombs, and CSAR
To the south, A-10s have also taken
place in patrolling the southern no-fly zone, set up after
a situation similar to the Kurdish uprising occurred with
local Shiites in the days following the Gulf War. In addition,
the southern no-fly zone provides an early warning of sorts
for any future Iraqi attack on Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. The
bulk of operations are patrols flown as part of Operation
Operation Southern Watch (August 27,
1992 - Present)
Operations over southern Iraq have
taken on a similar profile as those over the north. Operation
Southern Watch involves a wider range of units, however, including
naval aviation forces stationed on aircraft carriers in the
However, just like their peers in
the north, the missions are dangerous, repetitive, and without
a visible end. The A-10 has played a role disproportionate
to the small numbers of Warthogs stationed in the region,
and have even widened the scope of missions performed by the
aircraft and its aircrew.
In the years immediately following
the Gulf War, the A-10 has been a constant presence in the
region. Starting in 1994, a permanent deployment of Hogs has
flown out of Ahmed al-Jaber Air Base in Kuwait, typically
in strength of around a dozen aircraft. The responsibility
for this deployment, as with the deployment to Turkey previously
mentioned, has been rotated among the remaining Active Duty,
Air Guard, and Air Force Reserve units flying the A-10. In
recent years, Reserve and ANG crews from Missouri, Connecticut,
Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania, among
others, have rotated through Ahmed al-Jaber. Active Duty A-10
units from around the world (with the exception of those in
Osan, Korea) have carried the majority of the deployments
in Kuwait, however.
One of the primary roles for the A-10
aircrew in the region is CSAR, just as it is for those in
the north. Warthogs remain on alert status at the air base
to rapidly respond should one of the aircraft patrolling the
southern no-fly zone be downed. A-10 pilot Capt. Ron Stuewe
said in an interview in 1998 that the CSAR roles was "the
best mission in the Air Force," adding "Rescuing
someone from an unfortunate incident where the priority is
getting that guy back so he can look forward to another day,
is a sense of accomplishment."
Stuewe's choice of an A-10 assignment,
in fact, was partly because of the wide variety of mission.
"I chose the A-10 because of
the missions we fly, and the A-10 community -- from the pilots
to those turning wrenches on the flight line," he said.
"There will never be a movie about an A-10, and a lot
of people don't even know what an A-10 is, but an Army guy
on the ground knows what a Hog is."
The Hog has been used for much more
than CSAR out of Kuwait, however. In addition to flying patrols
inside the no-fly zone, A-10s have guided in retaliatory strikes
and launched attacks of their own.
The southern region has also flared
up on occasion, with periods of fairly intense combat. The
most notable of these was a short air campaign in late 1998
called Operation Desert Fox.
Operation Desert Fox (December 16-20,
The actions leading up to Desert Fox
had been brewing for several months prior. Following a period
in which Iraq was not cooperating with UN Weapons Inspector
teams, a limited four-night air campaign was launched. An
earlier strike, planned for November, was cancelled while
aircraft were in mid-air when Iraq appeared to make concessions
regarding surprise inspections by the UN teams, who were looking
for information about Iraq's program for building Weapons
of Mass Destruction.
The goals of Desert Fox were to strike
at facilities that aided Iraq's ability to produce, store,
maintain, and deliver those weapons, and the attacks included
strikes on about 100 targets. These included integrated air
defenses, command and control facilities, weapons development
facilities, Republican Guard barracks, airfields, and an oil
In addition to US and USMC aircraft
flying from the Persian Gulf, USAF B-52 and B-1 bombers, and
Royal Air Force and USAF planes from nearby bases, Tomahawk
cruise missiles were used as well. Given the nature of the
strikes and the type of targets, A-10s did not seem to play
a significant role in most of the Desert Fox strikes. They
did, however, carry out local strikes from their base in Kuwait
and stayed on alert for any Iraqi armored attack on the Kingdom.
One of the roles of the A-10 community
during Desert Fox, though, took on a new flavor. A-10s were
used to drop psychological warfare pamphlets over Iraqi troop
concentrations near Kuwait, urging the soldiers not to threaten
The success of Desert Fox's 650 sorties
is widely disputed but is generally regarded to have had little
impact. Iraq did not put up a significant fight, it appears,
and tensions continue to this day, as very likely does their
weapons program. UN inspectors have not returned to Iraq since
Iraq has continued its game of cat
and mouse with Allied aircraft since, and in fact, even shortly
after Desert Fox ended. A-10s were involved in an incident
on May 17, 1999 and assisted with attacks on air defense targets
near the towns of Abu Sukhayar, about 100 miles south of Baghdad,
and An Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. The
strikes were prompted by an Iraqi AAA attack on patrolling
aircraft, one of more than 180 such attacks since the end
of Desert Fox at that time.
To this day, Allied pilots flying
over the southern no-fly zone come under AAA and SAM fire,
and the A-10s based in Kuwait continue to stand ready to perform
CSAR as needed. In fact, as of the publication date of this
article, there have been more than 275 incidents of Iraqi
antiaircraft fire in the no fly zones...in the year 2001 alone.
The decade that roared in with an
unprecedented air-land-sea battle against Iraq ended with
the apparently never-ending mission of patrols along its northern
and southern regions. A-10s were used throughout, and have
proved their value against threats in the region in all situations.
Hogs Over The Balkans
The Persian Gulf was hardly the only
region where the end of the Cold War brought with it hot tensions.
In Yugoslavia, old and new ethnic and nationalistic differences
flared and civil war waged as state by state, the nation came
apart at the seams. Although there were earlier conflicts
in Slovenia and Croatia, the world's attention focused on
Bosnia-Herzegovina, a heavily Muslim region in active conflict
with Serbian forces within its borders, supplied and supported
by the government of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia proper.
The Balkans, Part One: Bosnia - Herzegovina
Operation Deny Flight (12 April 1993
to 20 December 1995)
From 1992 on, A-10s were again on
the forefront of a conflict. Recognizing the vulnerable position
of UN forces as well as the Bosnian population to Serb air
and ground attack, the UN and NATO began flying patrols over
the disputed territory in an attempt to ban fixed- and rotary-wing
aircraft over Bosnia, as well as provide CAS support to UN
troops on the ground near geographic "Safe Havens"
outlined by the international community. This mission was
called Operation Deny Flight.
It proved to be a large strain on
a shrinking US military, leading to long overseas deployments
to support it, as well as high operational tempos. In 1994
alone, the 52nd Fighter Wing's O/A-10s out of Spangdahlem
AB were deployed to Aviano Air Base in Italy for more than
190 days. Twelve of the Wing's 18 Warthogs were part of Deny
Flight, mostly flying orbits over the disputed land.
That relatively benign task grew hotter
in early 1994, when several incidents occurred, including
a shootdown of four Serb aircraft (February), a CAS mission
near Gorazde (April) carried out by F-16s and F/A-18s, and
attacks on several NATO aircraft, which were either downed
or fired at by ground defenses. As the situation on the ground
deteriorated and safe areas fell under increasing attack,
the A-10s were finally put into combat action.
Following the seizure of some heavy
weapons by Bosnian Serbs from a warehouse in Ilidza, a series
of sorties were launched to locate and destroy the captured
equipment. On August 5, two A-10s located and strafed one
of the pieces, a WWII-era M-18 tank destroyer. Following the
attack, which was believed to have been successful, the Serbs
returned the remaining heavy weapons.
A-10s entered the picture a little
over a month later as well, when a OA/10 and two RAF Jaguars
(presumably controlled by the OA-10 FAC) attacked a Serb tank
located within the identified 20 mile "exclusion zone"
Operation Deliberate Force (29 August
- 15 September 1995)
As fighting progressed, world opinion
increasingly pointed to the distinct possibility of Western
military intervention in the conflict on the behalf of the
Not-so-veiled threats were made that
attacks by Serbian forces on the established Safe Areas would
lead to further escalation by the West. As July approached,
even more warnings were made that further Serb actions against
the cities of Gorazde, Tuzla, Bihac and Sarajevo would be
met with force. Apparently wishing to test NATO's resolve,
Bosnian Serbs continued attacks on several safe areas, including
a mortar attack on a crowded market in Sarajevo that killed
or wounded dozens.
On August 30, 1995, NATO launched
Operation Deliberate Force, an eleven-day air campaign aimed
at about 50 Bosnian Serb positions. By the time it was over,
more than 3,500 sorties had been flown and more than 1,000
bombs dropped. The US carried much of the burden of the attack,
with about 65 percent of the sorties, followed by the UK,
France, and The Netherlands. The nature of the conflict, and
the political need to minimize NATO losses, essentially dictated
the precision-guided munitions be used for the majority of
the strikes...in total about three-quarters of the bombs dropped
In light of this, the role of the
A-10 was somewhat muted during the action. Although it's certainly
capable of carrying PGMs, the Warthog isn't the optimum platform
for these bombs. That's not to say that the A-10 played a
minor role in the conflict, however. Twelve O/A-10s flying
out of Aviano provided a respectable ground attack force,
and in fact only the F-16 and F/A-18 were used in larger numbers.
Although it's difficult to ascertain exactly what missions
were flown by Warthogs, it's known that more than 10,000 rounds
of 30 mm. ammunition, 23 EO/IR Mavericks, more than 300 iron
and cluster bombs, and 20 FFAR were expended by NATO forces.
A scan through NATO's summary of the operations hints at several
missions likely performed by the Aviano Warthogs.
8 Sept 1995: Nineteen CAS aircraft
were re-tasked against eight fixed targets
8 Sept 1995: A third helo-borne
reconnaissance mission to locate and rescue [downed French
aircrew] was executed
- Weather was good and a thorough
search of the area was performed without result
- Mission came under attack
from small arms fire; suppressing fire was provided by escorting
gunship and fighter aircraft
- Two helicopter crew members
were wounded and a helo damaged on egress, but all mission
aircraft/aircrew recovered safely
10 Sept 1995: At 1425, UN
requested CAS support following BSA (Bosnian Serb Army) shelling
of UN positions near the Tuzla airport; three flights of fighters
supported the CAS request; two command bunkers and an artillery
position were identified, targeted and successfully engaged
Several factors played into combat
operations over Bosnia. Poor weather at times severely restricted
visibility for the attacking aircraft, and low clouds and
deep valleys below made low-level attacks perilous and put
crews at much higher risk to ground fire. A typical day in
Bosnia presented low valley fog in the mornings, followed
by afternoon clearing, and then increased storminess later
in the day.
In addition, the role of finding ground
targets as a FAC, while at altitude, presented unique challenges.
One Pentagon media briefer during the operation, a former
FAC himself, put it this way:
Let's just take an example
of trying to deliver a precision munition such as a laser-guided
bomb or a Maverick which the weapons delivery parameters
are somewhat similar for, and the aircrew would have the
aircraft up about 15,000 feet and be in a slight descent,
maybe no more than 10 to 15 degrees. But I'll try to put
the distances into perspective for you of what goes on in
terms of the aircrew looking out trying to deliver a weapon
on a target, and I'll try to put it in perspective of some
distances that you all can relate to here in the Washington
area to give you a feel.
Let's say we had a tank at the
base of the Capitol building. In order to deliver a precision
munition against that tank, the aircrew would have to acquire
the target from a distance away of about where Arlington
Cemetery is. So that's about the distance, a 15,000 feet
slant range. That kind of slant range -- distance from Arlington
to the Capitol -- is about where they would have to see
the target the size of a tank.
Granted, the equipment on board
the aircraft -- you're not doing all this with a naked eye,
although you had a general idea of target area from target
study that you're looking out. You see the Capitol or you
see the general area that you know from target study you're
supposed to be in, but you have equipment on board that
allows you to see up much closer onto the target through
electrical optical systems that help you make sure you've
got the right target. Nevertheless, about from Arlington
Cemetery to the Capitol is where you've got to see it.
You need to start lasing the
target for a laser-guided weapon about the time you come
over the Lincoln Memorial, and release it about that point
as you pass over the Lincoln Memorial. Then you need to
start your recovery maneuver so that you don't go any closer
than where the Washington Monument is to the Capitol. Those
are some pretty good-sized distances we're talking about.
Doing this, you're doing it all
at an airspeed of about 500 knots -- which to put that in
perspective, at that airspeed you can travel from the Beltway
to the Pentagon in a minute. There are those who wish to
get here in the early morning hours that way. It would be
nice to be able to do it in a minute, but that gives you
a feel for the speed.
Another relationship of the speed
would be if you're traveling along on the Beltway out there
at 60 miles an hour, it's ten times as fast as you see things
going by. So it's a substantially increased speed from what
you'd see in a car, as you would expect; but you know how
fast things pass you by when you're looking up close, and
even off at a distance. It's ten times that fast.
So things are happening quickly,
and this is if everything's perfect. You throw onto this
that a person who's delivering the weapon can't be looking
out at the target all the time. They've got to take into
consideration what's going on around them. There are other
aircraft they're having to watch out for, and, more importantly,
having to look out for SAMs and AAA, because we get target
fixation, as we call it. That's how people get shot down.
They're not paying attention to what's happening, they're
having to pay attention to the weapons delivery, but there's
a lot of other things they're having to look at.
Smoke, weather, as you
can see here, and just general atmospheric conditions can
also cause problems.
NATO and the US considered Deliberate
Force a victory, as the siege of Sarajevo was lifted as a
result of the strikes, and eventually, the warring parties
met in Dayton, Ohio to reconstruct a post-war arrangement
for the region.
Operation Decisive Edge, Deliberate
Guard, Joint Guard, and Joint Forge (1996 - Present)
The end of the conflict and the subsequent
signing of the Dayton Peace Accords may have formally ended
the fighting, but animosities remained and exist to this day.
Through a succession of "Deny Flight"-type of operations,
NATO, led by the US, have continued patrols over Bosnia in
order to prevent further outbreaks of open violence. A-10s
have played a major role in that, especially active duty units
like the 81st FS.
Even about six months after the end
of open hostilities, the threat to NATO aircraft, especially
low-flying A-10s, was a very real one. In an interview in
May 1996, Lt. Col. John H. Bordelon, commander of the 47th
Fighter Squadron operating out of Aviano, stated that a major
threat was shoulder-fired weapons controlled by irregular
forces on the ground, who typically wouldn't consider themselves
a party to the peace talks. Bordelon said that they were fairly
confident that both sides were no longer using radar-guided
SAM systems, as stipulated by the treaty. He expressed frustration,
however, at being on the watch for the smaller, man-portable
systems, possibly being operated by small groups of soldiers.
"We don't know where they are.
So, there's always the risk of some renegade taking a shot
at you," he said.
Bordelon's unit was also on the cutting
edge of A-10 technology, though, as the unit began to operate
all hours of the day using helmet-mounted night vision goggles.
The new gear was introduced in 1994 and the unit used the
goggles operationally in April 1996 while on rotation to Aviano.
While many USAF aircraft are equipped with pods such as LANTIRN,
the A-10 community had long been forced to improvise, using
flares and their IIR Mavericks during the Gulf War to find
and kill targets at night. The NVGs permitted aircrews to
fly unassisted and without the drawbacks of flares, such as
their limited burn time and the fact that they often light
up both target and the attacker.
In an interview, Col. Jim Mills, Operations
Group commander for the 917th, said the goggles are "a
critical addition to our repertoire."
"If the Army wants to fight 24-hours
a day, we've got to be able to support them 24-hours a day.
NVGs now give us the capability. They don't turn night into
day, but it's close enough," said Mills.
The dangerous terrain below at first
necessitated that all night flights be conducts at altitudes
in excess of 2,000 feet for safety, but as pilots became more
comfortable wearing the NVGs, altitude restrictions were lowered.
The cockpit on the A-10s needed to be adjusted so that their
lights didn't wash out the goggles as the pilot scanned the
instruments, however, teething problems aside, the pilots
quickly found that the goggle permitted great improvements.
"Using the current generation
of NVGs is like day flying but everything looks green,"
said A-10 pilot Capt. Bruce Miller. "Now, we can go anywhere
to look for targets, attack them ourselves, or mark them with
flares so someone else can drop bombs on them," Miller
said. "The goggles let us to do all the things we can
do in the daytime we can see the ground, the other
airplanes and they allow us to do aggressive maneuvering.
"You can see the other guy shooting
at you the muzzle flashes, sometimes the bullets coming
at you. The situational awareness is so much higher,"
Miller said. "If you see a guy smoking cigarette, he's
toast. You know exactly where he is."
Using their experience with the gear,
the unit then went on to train other USAF units in the operation
of the goggles. To reach the skill level of using the goggle
tactically, the pilots are required to fly two FAC-guided
missions 25 hours of night flight time.
Once again, the A-10 community expanded
its bag of tricks, pushing the aircraft and aircrew far beyond
what the designers and supporters of the A-10 could have dreamed
when it was created.
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